Monday, July 13, 2009

My teacher movie will star some fists

I have been trying for years to find a teacher story to tell. My second screenplay was about a Mafia hitman turned teacher who has to lead her students out of town as they're chased by mobsters, cops and gang bangers. It was terrible.

Then a few years ago a douchebag and I wrote a pilot about a school shooting. It never really worked.

Then last year I finished the first draft of a screenplay about a Mexican teenager who makes friends with this white chick. It wasn't about teaching per say, but it was heavily influenced by my teaching experiences. I printed out the draft and threw it in a chair, where it still sits untouched because it sucks. It's entirely too contrived.

When I tell people what I do for a living they usually say "Oh that must be filled with stories!"

Yep. Stories I am apparently incapable of telling. I want to write a movie about teaching, but I don't want to write a "teacher movie" because "teacher movies" all have the same plot: Dough-eyed new teacher enters classroom where black and Mexican students, and that one white kid, all sit on desks and listen to their boom box while throwing spit balls at each other. Teacher struggles to get through, then makes some miraculous discovery that changes the game. The kids change their minds and decide they love the teacher, but the principal is an asshole and just doesn't understand this newfangled method that works so very well. Cue inspirational music.

That's not the kind of story I write. I like explosions and flame throwers and gun fights. And despite the fact that I teach in South Central, there's really not much of that going on here. When I told my colleagues back in North Carolina where I was moving, they said I should wear a bullet-proof vest to school. Yeah that's just laughable. I feel safer at this school than I did back in rural NC where the kids fought daily and all had shotguns in their pickups.

But it's sort of been my goal to find a new way to tell the teacher story, a fantasy that I'd like to see, with explosions and fist fights and crazy action scenes, but still giving some kind of glimpse into the world of education. Sounds impossible.

And then the other night in the shower I began to put some pieces together. I told the Beefcake my idea. He shook his head because it was a straight to DVD idea - a Steven Seagal type deal.

So I thought and thought some more and kept changing details and thinking about what I really want to do and what I'm good at. I'm good at action stories, and quite frankly I don't think I should try to write anything else.

Anyway after all that thinking, this morning I started to realize what I have here. And I think I've got it. Of course, I always think I've got it until I don't, so this may be another exciting idea that crashes and burns when I try to put it on paper.

With Not Dead Yet in circulation and a new script humming along slowly but steadily - at the moment I'm rewriting scenes but I should be caught up and start adding new pages this week now that I've solved a major problem - I need to prepare for pitches. If somebody does read NDY and really likes it, I've got to be able to present ideas for what else I've got in my noggin.

So this morning I got out my yellow index cards that I use for new story ideas and I wrote this teacher thing down and stuck it on the board next to the other ideas, all screenplay ideas I am prepared to pitch and start writing today if I have to. Idea # 8 - Teacher is a badass.

As soon as I finish writing Burn Side and then the low budget scifi thing I have really enjoyed thinking about and the treatment of a novel adaptation I'm working on, well by then I'll probably know my teacher story cold. So one day, by the time I'm 45, I should get around to writing this thing.


  1. writing a screenplay (or story) about a character with a background very much similar to your background, tends to be a lot harder than writing a script with completely fictional characters.

    I've tried, and I failed. So I've discovered I'm better writing fictional characters that have nothing in common with me.

  2. i think you mean "doe-eyed." "dough-eyed" is gross. but an hilarious homophone.

  3. Have you seen THE SUBSTITUTE?

    - Bill

  4. Be wary of THE SUBSTITUTE, however, and try to be unique from it.

    Have you seen the cult film THE CLASS OF 1984, it's an interesting take I think you may find interesting.

    And it's Michael J. Fox's film debut, when he's young and chubby.

  5. Before I could finish your post, I couldn't help but ponder "there must be a way to tell an Emily-type story in a school environment." I liked this reverse 21 Jump Street sorta deal: Teacher (doe-eyed or badass, doesn't matter) finds out that one of the difficult kids is an undercover cop. Possibly, the kid is a dirty cop or even double-undercover inside the team of dirty 21 Jump Street cops.

    That would qualify as one or two of what Johnny Atlas calls "Oh shit" moments for me.

    If you like the idea, I promise not to sue you if you use it. Otherwise, let us never speak of it again.

  6. That's not a bad idea, OJ, but I've got one I like already. And don't worry, it's nothing like The Substitute.

  7. Teacher stories are always about a person trying to make a difference, trying to save the children and make them better people. What about teachers who just do it because it's a paycheck. They got let go from their gig at Bear Stearns because of the economy and being a teacher is the best job they can find. Or a snitch hiding in the Witness Protection Program who becomes a teacher, only to be discovered by one of her kids' thug parents?

    It's the same issue I have with super-heroes. Always and anon, as soon as someone discovers they've got powers above and beyond, they quest to save the world. How come someone doesn't get superstrength and decide to rip open armored cars?

    Play on the dark side of humanity.


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